Munich Agreement

During the weekend of 23rd October 1937, Nancy Astor and her husband, Waldorf Astor, had thirty people to lunch. This included Geoffrey Dawson (editor of The Times), Nevile Henderson (the recently appointed Ambassador to Berlin), Edward Algernon Fitzroy (Speaker of the Commons), Sir Alexander Cadogan (soon to replace the anti-appeasement Robert Vansittart as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office), Lord Lothian and Lionel Curtis. They were happy that Neville Chamberlain, a strong supporter of appeasement was now Prime Minister and that this would soon mean promotion for people such as Lothian and Lord Halifax.

According to Norman Rose, Lothian gave a talk on future relations with Adolf Hitler. "He wished to define what Britain would not fight for. Certainly not for the League of Nations, a broken vessel; nor to honour the obligations of others. As he had explained to the Nazi leaders, 'Britain had no primary interests in eastern Europe,' areas that fell within 'Germany's sphere'. To be dragged into a conflict not of Britain's making and not in defence of its vital interests would bedevil relations with the Dominions, fatal for the unity of the Empire. For the Clivedenites, this was always the bottom line... In effect, Lothian was prepared to turn central and eastern Europe over to Germany." Geoffrey Dawson also agreed with Lothian and this was reflected in an editorial in The Times that he wrote a few days later. (1)

In November, 1937, Neville Chamberlain sent Lord Halifax in secret to meet Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring in Germany. In his diary, Lord Halifax records how he told Hitler: "Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he (Hitler) had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping Communism out of his country." This was a reference to the fact that Hitler had banned the Communist Party (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Germany and placed its leaders in Concentration Camps. Halifax had told Hitler: "On all these matters (Danzig, Austria, Czechoslovakia) ... the British government... "were not necessarily concerned to stand for the status quo as today... If reasonable settlements could be reached with... those primarily concerned we certainly had no desire to block." (2)

The story was leaked to the journalist Vladimir Poliakoff. On 13th November 1937 the Evening Standard reported the likely deal between the two countries: "Hitler is ready, if he receives the slightest encouragement, to offer to Great Britain a ten-year truce in the colonial issue... In return... Hitler would expect the British Government to leave him a free hand in Central Europe". (3) On 17th November, Claude Cockburn reported in The Week, that the deal had been first moulded "into usable diplomatic shape" at meetings of the Cliveden Set that for years has "exercised so powerful an influence on the course of British policy." He added that Lord Halifax was "the representative of Cliveden and Printing House Square rather than of more official quarters." (4)

David Low, had a cartoon published in the Evening Standard, showing James Garvin, Nancy Astor, Philip Henry Kerr and Geoffrey Dawson, holding high the slogan "Any Sort of Peace at Any Sort of Price". The term Cliveden Set was first used by the Reynolds News on 28th November, 1937, in an article that argued that the group were highly sympathetic to fascism. (5)

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
David Low, Any Sort of Peace at Any Sort of Price (November, 1937)

Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, constantly warned the British government that Nazi Germany was building up its armed forces. In January 1938 he reported: "The rearmament of Germany, if it has been less spectacular because it is no longer news, has been pushed on with the same energy as in previous years. In the army, consolidation has been the order of the day, but there is clear evidence that a considerable increase is being prepared in the number of divisions and of additional tank units outside those divisions. The air force continues to expand, at an alarming rate, and one can at present see no indication of a halt. We may well soon be faced with a strength of between 4000 and 5000 first-line aircraft.... Finally, the mobilisation of the civilian population and industry for war, by means of education, propaganda, training, and administrative measures, has made further strides. Military efficiency is the god to whom everyone must offer sacrifice. It is not an army, but the whole German nation which is being prepared for war." (6)

Sudetenland

Henderson believed that we would lose a war with Nazi Germany. He therefore recommended that the British government should apply pressure on President Eduard Beneš of Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland, with its largely German-speaking population, to Germany. Henderson's biographer, Peter Neville, pointed out: "So strong was this conviction that he sometimes erred on the side of prejudice against the Czechs and their president, Beneš". (7)

In March 1938 Hugh Christie told the British government that Hitler would be ousted by the military if Britain joined forces with Czechoslovakia against Germany. Christie warned that the "crucial question is How soon will the next step against Czechoslovakia be tried?... The probability is that the delay will not exceed two or three months at most, unless France and England provide the deterrent, for which cooler heads in Germany are praying." (8)

David Low, The Salute with both hands now (3rd July, 1934)
Neville Chamberlain, Nevile Henderson and Adolf Hitler (30th September, 1938)

In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, met Hitler at his home in Berchtesgaden. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany's plans to takeover the Sudetenland. After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable. (9)

Henderson pleaded with Chamberlain to go on negotiating with Hitler. He believed, like Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, that the German claim to the Sudetenland in 1938 was a moral one, and he always reverted in his dispatches to his conviction that the Treaty of Versailles had been unfair to Germany. "At the same time, he was unsympathetic to feelers from the German opposition to Hitler seeking to enlist British support. Henderson thought, not unreasonably, that it was not the job of the British government to subvert the German government, and this view was shared by Chamberlain and Halifax". (10)

Munich Agreement

Benito Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. This would exclude both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and therefore increasing the possibility of reaching an agreement and undermine the solidarity that was developing against Germany. The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Chamberlain and Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe. (11)

David Low, What, no chair for me? (30th September, 1938)
David Low, What, no chair for me? (30th September, 1938)

The meeting ended with Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini signing the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. "We, the German Führer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as Symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries." (12)

Nevile Henderson defended the agreement: "Germany thus incorporated the Sudeten lands in the Reich without bloodshed and without firing a shot. But she had not got all that Hitler wanted and which she would have got if the arbitrament had been left to war... The humiliation of the Czechs was a tragedy, but it was solely thanks to Mr. Chamberlain's courage and pertinacity that a futile and senseless war was averted." (13)

Most of the newspapers agreed. For example, the Daily Express reported: "Be glad in your hearts. Give thanks to your God. People of Britain, your children are safe. Your husbands and your sons will not march to war Peace is a victory for all mankind. If we must have a victor, let us choose Chamberlain. For the Prime Minister's conquests are mighty and enduring - millions of happy homes and hearts relieved of their burden. To him the laurels. And now let us go back to our own affairs. We have had enough of those menaces, conjured up from the Continent to confuse us." (14)

David Low, Evening Standard (8th July, 1936)
David Low, Evening Standard (10th October, 1938)

Some newspapers such as the The Manchester Guardian criticised the agreement. "If Germany's aim were the economic and financial destruction of Czechoslovakia the Munich agreement goes far to satisfy her. But, it may be urged, while the Czechs may suffer economically, they have the political protection of an international guarantee. What is it worth? Will Britain and France (and Russia, though, of course, Russia was not even mentioned at Munich) come to the aid of an unarmed Czechoslovakia when they would not help her in her strength? Politically Czechoslovakia is rendered helpless, with all that that means to the balance of forces in Eastern Europe, and Hitler will be able to advance again, when he chooses, with greatly increased power." (15) Henderson wrote to Chamberlain and told him to ignore these comments: "Millions of mothers will be blessing your name tonight for having saved their sons from the horrors of war. Oceans of ink will flow hereafter in criticism of your action." (16)

Opponents of appeasement, in the Conservative Party such as Robert Boothby, were appalled by what had happened: "The terms of the Munich Agreement turned out to be even worse than we had supposed. They amounted to unconditional surrender. Even Göring was shocked. He said afterwards that when he heard Hitler tell the conference at Munich (if such it could be called) that he proposed to occupy the Sudeten lands, including the Czech fortifications at once... But neither Chamberlain nor Daladier made a cheep of protest. Hitler did not even have to send an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain did that for him." (17)

In the debate that took place in the House of Commons on 3rd October, 1938, Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, stated: "We all feel relief that war has not come this time. Every one of us has been passing through days of anxiety; we cannot, however, feel that peace has been established, but that we have nothing but an armistice in a state of war. We have been unable to go in for care-free rejoicing. We have felt that we are in the midst of a tragedy. We have felt humiliation. This has not been a victory for reason and humanity. It has been a victory for brute force. At every stage of the proceedings there have been time limits laid down by the owner and ruler of armed force. The terms have not been terms negotiated; they have been terms laid down as ultimata. We have seen to day a gallant, civilised and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilisation and humanity, receive a terrible defeat... The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest diplomatic defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition." (18)

Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail, immediately sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler: "My dear Führer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher." (19)

The Munich Agreement was popular with most people in Britain because it appeared to have prevented a war with Germany. However, some politicians, including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, attacked the agreement. These critics pointed out that no only had the British government behaved dishonorably, but it had lost the support of Czech Army, one of the best in Europe.

Members of the Cliveden Set were delighted with the Munich Agreement. According to Lord Lothian, "Chamberlain had pulled off a masterly coup". He told Waldorf Astor: "Nobody else could have done the trick and I've no doubt prayer helped the result. He'll be the darling of the Western world - a most unexpected position - for a while." Lothian predicted "some nasty moments as the Germans march into the Sudenten territory and the worthless Czechs and Social Democrats flee before them." Lothian was now convinced that Hitler would not now go to war: "My own impression is that Europe, including the Nazis, have now turned their back on world war, if only because a general war means letting Russia loose in Europe, and trust a final settlement, including disarmament, may be possible if Neville's lead is followed up." (20)

Invasion of Czechoslovakia

On 15th March 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action Adolf Hitler broke the Munich Agreement. "Prague, a sorrowing Prague, yesterday had its first day of German rule - a day in which the Czechs learned of the details of their subjection to Germany, and in which the Germans began their measures against the Jews... Bridges were occupied by troops and each bridge-head had a heavy machine-gun mounted on a tripod and pointing to the sky. Every twenty yards along the pavement two machine-guns were mounted facing each other. Suicides have begun. The fears of the Jews grow. The funds of the Jewish community have been seized, stopping Jewish relief work. The organization for Jewish emigration has been closed." (21)

Nevile Henderson was devastated by Hitler's action: "Hitler had staged another of his lightning coups, and once more the world was left breathless... By the occupation of Prague, Hitler put himself once for all morally and unquestionably in the wrong, and destroyed the entire arguable validity of the German case as regards the Treaty of Versailles... By his callous destruction of the hard and newly won liberty of a free and independent people, Hitler deliberately violated the Munich Agreement, which he had signed not quite six months before, and his undertaking to Mr. Chamberlain, once the Sudetenlands had been incorporated in the Reich, to respect the independence and integrity of the Czech people." (22)

The British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, now realized that Hitler could not be trusted and his appeasement policy now came to an end. David Low, one of his main critics wrote: "He wanted peace - but so did we all. No one impugned his motives, but only his judgment. That his appeasement approach to Hitler was wrong was soon demonstrated, for the ink was hardly dry on the Munich agreement before the Führer was openly and noisily preparing his next step. But devotion to Chamberlain was so strong that his friends were unwilling to admit it. Having committed themselves to a fairy-tale, they could not bring themselves to face cold reality." (23)

Primary Sources

(1) Neville Chamberlain, letter to King George VI (13th September, 1938)

The continued state of tension in Europe which has caused such grave concern throughout the world has in no way been relieved, and in some ways been aggravated by the speech delivered at Nuremberg last night by Herr Hitler. Your Majesty's Ministers are examining the position in the light of his speech, and with the firm desire to ensure, if this is at all possible, that peace may be restored.

On the one hand, reports are daily received in great numbers, not only from official sources but from all manner of individuals who claim to have special and unchangeable sources of information. Many of these (and of such authority as to make it impossible to dismiss them as unworthy of attention) declare positively that Herr Hitler has made up his mind to attack Czechoslovakia and then to proceed further East. He is convinced that the operation can be effected so rapidly that it will be all over before France or Great Britain could move.

On the other hand, Your Majesty's representative in Berlin has steadily maintained that Herr Hitler has not yet made up his mind to violence. He means to have a solution soon - this month - and if that solution, which must be satisfactory to himself, can be obtained peacefully, well and good. If not, he is ready to march.

In these circumstances I have been considering the possibility of a sudden and dramatic step which might change the whole situation. The plan is that I should inform Herr Hitler that I propose at once to go over to Germany to see him. If he assents, and it would be difficult for him to refuse, I should hope to persuade him that he had an unequalled opportunity of raising his own prestige and fulfilling what he has so often declared to be his aim, namely the establishment of an Anglo-German understanding, preceded by a settlement of the Czechoslovakian question.

Of course I should not be able to guarantee that Dr. Benes would accept this solution, but I should undertake to put all possible pressure on him to do so. The Government of France have already said that they would accept any plan approved by Your Majesty's Government or by Lord Runciman.

(2) Hannah Senesh, diary entry (17th September, 1938)

We're living through indescribably tense days. The question is: Will there be war? The mobilization going on in various countries doesn't fill one with a great deal of confidence. No recent news concerning the discussions of Hitler and Chamberlain. The entire world is united in fearful suspense, for one, feel a numbing indifference because of all this waiting. The situation changes from minute to minute. Even the idea there may be war is abominable enough.

(3) Neville Chamberlain held a Cabinet meeting on 24th September 1938. Duff Cooper , First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote about it in his autobiography, Old Men Forget (1953)

The Cabinet met that evening. The Prime Minister looked none the worse for his experiences. He spoke for over an hour. He told us that Hitler had adopted a certain position from the start and had refused to budge an inch from it. Many of the most important points seemed hardly to have arisen during their discussion, notably the international guarantee. Having said that he had informed Hitler that he was creating an impossible situation, having admitted that he had "snorted" with indignation when he read the German terms, the Prime Minister concluded, to my astonishment, by saying that he considered that we should accept those terms and that we should advise the Czechs to do so.

It was then suggested that the Cabinet should adjourn, in order to give members time to read the terms and sleep on them, and that we should meet again the following morning. I protested against this. I said that from what the Prime Minister had told us it appeared to me that the Germans were still convinced that under no circumstances would we fight, that there still existed one method, and one method only, of persuading them to the contrary, and that was by instantly declaring full mobilisation. I said that I was sure popular opinion would eventually compel us to go to the assistance of the Czechs; that hitherto we had been faced with the unpleasant alternatives of peace with dishonour or war. I now saw a third possibility, namely war with dishonour, by which I meant being kicked into the war by the boot of public opinion when those for whom we were fighting had already been defeated. I pointed out that the Chiefs of Staff had reported on the previous day that immediate mobilisation was of urgent and vital importance, and I suggested that we might one day have to explain why we had disregarded their advice. This angered the Prime Minister. He said that I had omitted to say that this advice was given only on the assumption that there was a danger of war with Germany within the next few days. I said I thought it would be difficult to deny that such a danger existed.

(4) Statement issued by Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler after the signing of the Munich Agreement (30th September)

We, the German Führer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.

We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as Symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries.

(5) Editorial in the Daily Express (30th September, 1938)

Be glad in your hearts. Give thanks to your God. People of Britain, your children are safe. Your husbands and your sons will not march to war Peace is a victory for all mankind. If we must have a victor, let us choose Chamberlain. For the Prime Minister's conquests are mighty and enduring - millions of happy homes and hearts relieved of their burden. To him the laurels. And now let us go back to our own affairs. We have had enough of those menaces, conjured up from the Continent to confuse us.

(6) The Manchester Guardian (1st October, 1938)

No stranger experience can have happened to Mr. Chamberlain during the past month of adventures than his reception back home in London. He drove from Heston to Buckingham Palace, where the crowd clamoured for him, and within five minutes of his arrival he was standing on the balcony of the Palace with the King and Queen and Mrs. Chamberlain.

The cries were all for "Neville," and he stood there blinking in the light of a powerful arc-lamp and waving his hand and smiling. For three minutes this demonstration lasted. Another welcome awaited the Premier in Downing Street, which he reached fifteen minutes later. With difficulty his car moved forward from Whitehall to No. 10. Mounted policemen rode fore and aft and a constable kept guard on the running board of the car.

Every window on the three floors of No. 10 and No. 11 was open and filled with faces. The windows of the Foreign Office across the way were equally full - all except one, which was made up with sandbags. Everywhere were people cheering. One of the women there found no other words to express her feelings but these, "The man who gave me back my son."

Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain stood for a few moments on the doorstep acknowledging the greeting. Then Mr. Chamberlain went to a first-floor window and leaned forward happily smiling on the people. "My good friends," he said - it took some time to still the clamour so that he might be heard - "this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany 'peace with honour.' I believe it is peace for our time."

No one in this country who examines carefully the terms under which Hitler's troops begin their march into Czechoslovakia to-day can feel other than unhappy. Certainly the Czechs will hardly appreciate Mr. Chamberlain's phrase that it is "peace with honour."

If Germany's aim were the economic and financial destruction of Czechoslovakia the Munich agreement goes far to satisfy her. But, it may be urged, while the Czechs may suffer economically, they have the political protection of an international guarantee.

What is it worth? Will Britain and France (and Russia, though, of course, Russia was not even mentioned at Munich) come to the aid of an unarmed Czechoslovakia when they would not help her in her strength?

Politically Czechoslovakia is rendered helpless, with all that that means to the balance of forces in Eastern Europe, and Hitler will be able to advance again, when he chooses, with greatly increased power.

(7) Lord Rothermere, telegram to Adolf Hitler (1st October, 1938)

My dear Fuhrer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher.

(8) Robert Boothby, Recollections of a Rebel Hardcover (1978)

The terms of the Munich Agreement turned out to be even worse than we had supposed. They amounted to unconditional surrender. Even Göring was shocked. He said afterwards that when he heard Hitler tell the conference at Munich (if such it could be called) that he proposed to occupy the Sudeten lands, including the Czech fortifications at once, 'we all knew what that meant'. But neither Chamberlain nor Daladier made a cheep of protest. Hitler did not even have to send an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain did that for him. Ashton-Gwatkin of the Foreign Office brought it from Munich to Prague for presentation to the Czech Government. He had breakfast with our Military Attaché, Brigadier Humphrey Stronge, before he showed it to the British Minister, Basil Newton. Stronge said that Czechoslovakia could never accept such terms, as they involved, amongst other things, surrendering all the fortifications, and thereby rendering her defenceless. Ashton-Gwatkin said that they had got to accept, and that there was no alternative. Stronge, in his own words, was 'staggered'; and wondered what the outcome could possibly be. Later that day, after a heated argument with some of his generals and politicians, Benes capitulated.

(9) Clement Attlee, speech in the House of Commons (3rd October, 1938)

We all feel relief that war has not come this time. Every one of us has been passing through days of anxiety; we cannot, however, feel that peace has been established, but that we have nothing but an armistice in a state of war. We have been unable to go in for care-free rejoicing. We have felt that we are in the midst of a tragedy. We have felt humiliation. This has not been a victory for reason and humanity. It has been a victory for brute force. At every stage of the proceedings there have been time limits laid down by the owner and ruler of armed force. The terms have not been terms negotiated; they have been terms laid down as ultimata. We have seen to day a gallant, civilised and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilisation and humanity, receive a terrible defeat. ... The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest diplomatic defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition. He has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence.

(10) Winston Churchill, The Second World War (1948)

For the French Government to leave her faithful ally Czechoslovakia to her fate was a melancholy lapse from which flowed terrible consequences. Not only wise and fair policy, but chivalry, honour, and sympathy for a small threatened people made an overwhelming concentration. Great Britain, who would certainly have fought if bound by treaty obligations, was nevertheless now deeply involved, and it must be recorded with regret that the British Government not only acquiesced but encouraged the French Government in a fatal course.

(10) In his memoirs Lord Halifax attempted to justify his appeasement policy that culminated in the signing of the Munich Agreement in September, 1938.

The criticism excited by Munich never caused me the least surprise. I should very possibly indeed have been among the critics myself, if I had not happened to be in a position of responsibility. But there were two or three considerations to which those same critics ought to have regard. One was that in criticizing the settlement of Munich, they were criticizing the wrong thing and the the wrong date. They ought to have criticized the failure of successive Governments, and of all parties, to foresee the necessity of rearming in the light of what was going on in Germany; and the right date on which criticism ought to have fastened was 1936, which had seen the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in defiance of treaty provisions.

I have little doubt that if we had then told Hitler bluntly to go back, his power for future and larger mischief would have been broken. But, leaving entirely aside the French, there was no section of British public opinion that would not have been directly opposed to such action in 1936. To go to war with Germany for walking into their own backyard, which was how the British people saw it, at a time moreover when you were actually discussing with them the dates and conditions of their right to resume occupation, was not the sort of thing people could understand. So that moment which, I would guess, offered the last effective chance of securing peace without war, went by.

(11) The Manchester Guardian (17th March, 1939)

Prague, a sorrowing Prague, yesterday had its first day of German rule - a day in which the Czechs learned of the details of their subjection to Germany, and in which the Germans began their measures against the Jews and against those people who have "opened their mouths too wide." Prague's streets were jammed with silent pedestrians wandering about, looking out of the corners of their eyes at German soldiers carrying guns, at armoured cars, and at other military precautions. Some Czechs were seen turning up their noses at the Germans. Germans were everywhere. Bridges were occupied by troops and each bridge-head had a heavy machine-gun mounted on a tripod and pointing to the sky. Every twenty yards along the pavement two machine-guns were mounted facing each other.

Suicides have begun. The fears of the Jews grow. The funds of the Jewish community have been seized, stopping Jewish relief work. The Prague Bar Council has ordered all its "non-Aryan" members to stop practicing at once. The organization for Jewish emigration has been closed. Hundreds of people stood outside the British Consulate shouting: "We want to get away!" This is only the beginning. According to an official spokesman of the German Foreign Office in Berlin last night, the Gestapo (secret police) will have rounded up hundreds of "harmful characters" within the next few days. So far about fifty to a hundred men have been put in local gaols. "There are certain centres of resistance which need to be cleaned up," said the spokesman. "Also some people open their mouths too wide. Some of them neglected to get out in time. They may total several thousand before we are through. Remember that Prague was a breeding-place for opposition to National Socialism." The head of the Gestapo in Prague is reported to have been more definite: "We have 10,000 arrests to carry out." Already, say Reuter's correspondent, everyone seems to have an acquaintance who has disappeared.

(12) Leonard Cheshire, The Light of Many Suns (1985)

Another priority for Hitler was to establish himself in the eyes of his own people as an invincible leader capable of winning against any odds. His occupation of the Rhineland in 1936 and the annexation of Austria a year later could never have succeeded had he been resisted, but he had shrewdly and correctly judged that he would not be. Hitler now needed to eliminate Czechoslovakia as a potential threat to his Southern flank. If he could do that without provoking Britain and France into war, he would be free to turn his entire military might against the East. However he was militarily at a considerable disadvantage. Czechoslovakia disposed of some thirty-five divisions, approximately the same as Germany, and knew that she would be fighting for her life. On the Western and Northern Fronts there were seventy French divisions and a few Belgian and Dutch. Britain had six, but as yet there was no commitment to Europe. Poland on the Eastern Front was an imponderable for which some contingency plans would have to be made. Clearly, one cannot calculate a nation's military power just by counting its divisions, but there can be no denying that, had Hitler's adversaries agreed upon concerted military action, he could never have succeeded. The German high command knew this and warned Hitler that what he was contemplating was militarily impossible, but Hitler replied: "Don't worry, they won't fight." ....

For Hitler, Munich was a moment of supreme triumph, for Britain one of shame and disaster. Yet it was also to prove Hitler's undoing and the making of Britain. Munich had not given Hitler everything he wanted, but it put him, almost unbelievably, within striking distance of his ultimate goal. Had he been content to continue as he had started, with the same caution and astute sense of timing, quietly waiting until French and British vigilance dissipated, as it surely would without further provocation, it is highly probable that he would have succeeded. Prague he could easily have afforded to leave alone now that he had neutralised Czechoslovakia; a sudden swoop on Danzig and there would then remain only Russia who would have had to fight a hopeless single-handed war. But the triumph of Munich proved too much for Hitler and the temptation to march victoriously into Prague too great, with the result that he abandoned the caution that had served him so well and fatally changed what had hitherto been a winning game. First he aggravated rather than allayed Britain's and France's fears by telling them that the agreement had not given him what he wanted and by rearming yet faster still. Then on 12 March he sent his armies into Prague and followed them three days later. Ensconced in Hradschin Castle, the highest point of the city, and looking triumphantly over the lands he had coveted for so long, he thought that his dream of an Eastern Empire that would last a thousand years had virtually been fulfilled. But within a fortnight the picture was to alter completely. On the last day of March, Chamberlain, though subjected to many conflicting pressures, suddenly decided to offer Poland an unconditional guarantee of military support should her territory be invaded. By any standard it was a courageous, indeed a historic, act, one which has not received the credit that it deserves. On Hitler the effect was instantaneous and dramatic. After a few moments of utter disbelief, he banged on the table in a blind fury and shouted out: "I'll cook them a stew on which they'll choke."

Student Activities

Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the German Workers' Party (Answer Commentary)

Sturmabteilung (SA) (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler the Orator (Answer Commentary)

Who Set Fire to the Reichstag? (Answer Commentary)

An Assessment of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (Answer Commentary)

British Newspapers and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)

The Hitler Youth (Answer Commentary)

German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)

Night of the Long Knives (Answer Commentary)

The Political Development of Sophie Scholl (Answer Commentary)

The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group (Answer Commentary)

Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)

Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)

Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)

Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

References

 

(1) Norman Rose, The Cliveden Set: Portrait of an Exclusive Fraternity (2000) pages 169-173

(2) Lord Halifax, diary entry (19th November, 1937)

(3) The Evening Standard (13th November 1937)

(4) Claude Cockburn, The Week (17th November, 1937)

(5) Reynolds News (28th November, 1937)

(6) Neville Henderson, report to the British government (January 1938)

(7) Peter Neville, Nevile Henderson : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(8) Hugh Christie, report to MI6 (March, 1938)

(9) A. J. P. Taylor, British History 1914-1945 (1965) page 527

(10) Peter Neville, Nevile Henderson : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(11) Graham Darby, Hitler, Appeasement and the Road to War (1999) page 56

(12) Statement issued by Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler after the signing of the Munich Agreement (30th September, 1938)

(13) Neville Henderson, Failure of a Mission (1940) page 167

(14) The Daily Express (30th September, 1938)

(15) The Manchester Guardian (1st October, 1938)

(16) Neville Henderson, Failure of a Mission (1940) page 168

(17) Robert Boothby, Recollections of a Rebel Hardcover (1978) page 130

(18) Clement Attlee, speech in the House of Commons (3rd October, 1938)

(19) Lord Rothermere, telegram to Adolf Hitler (1st October, 1938)

(20) Norman Rose, The Cliveden Set: Portrait of an Exclusive Fraternity (2000) page 190

(21) The Manchester Guardian (17th March, 1939)

(22) Neville Henderson, Failure of a Mission (1940) page 209

(23) David Low, Autobiography (1956) page 309